There’s no place like your homepage. Or at least, that used to be true. And search engines drove that mindset by driving traffic to our websites as long as we played by the rules. As search engines have evolved and grown in dominance, however, the shape of the game has changed. They’ve become as much a competitor as an ally.
Increasingly, Google appears to be designed to keep searchers on Google rather than referring them to other sites. Research shows that Google sends approximately 12% of clicks to its own properties. As a result, SEO authority Rand Fishkin suggests that the new homepage for businesses is really the search engine results page (SERP). By naming this reality, Fishkin addresses the elephant in meeting rooms everywhere: It’s Google’s world; we’re just marketing in it.
While competing for attention with a giant like Google isn’t easy, it’s still possible to come out on top because there are other ways to connect and build longstanding relationships with your audience. Before we entertain that notion, however, let’s explore two key pieces of the current digital marketing landscape: SERPs and zero-click searches.
SERPs And Zero-Click Searches
Once upon a time, a SERP contained just two types of content: organic results that the search engine served up because they genuinely matched the search query, and paid results that got a little bit of an edge because they helped pay the bills. What’s been both interesting and maddening to many marketers, however, is that both the appearance of SERPs and the ranking algorithms are constantly changing.
This fluidity is fueled in large part by the tinkering of search engine providers hoping to offer searchers a better, more intuitive experience. Not surprisingly, Google is leading the charge. In fact, Google made more than 3,200 changes to its algorithms in 2018. These innovations, over time, have given users better results based on natural language and intent, as well as feature capsules that highlight fast answers.
For better or worse, they’ve also given us zero-click searches. These happen when you type a search query into Google and find the information you need right on the SERP — there’s no need to click on a result. If you’ve ever checked the weather, movie times or age of a celebrity on Google, you’ve conducted a zero-click search. You type your query, get the answer and move on — that’s the beauty of a zero-click search, unless you own one of those websites that used to rely on that traffic.
Gaining momentum over the past few years, zero-click searches are more prevalent than ever. Research shows that more than half of all Google searches now result in zero clicks to other content. This is great news for Google — and seems like bad news for companies hoping for search traffic.
What does this mean? If you’re a business trying to wrestle organic search traffic out of Google, you’re probably out of your weight class. We all are. However, while zero-click searches eliminate a lot of the organic traffic digital marketers work so hard to create, there is value in them.
SEO In The Age Of Zero Click
With Google giving up less and less of its traffic to websites, I believe businesses need to foster their own direct relationship with their audience. Here are a few ways to foster relationships with customers without relying heavily on Google.
• Invest in your content. Well-written, relevant content can overcome many of the obstacles that the changing digital landscape presents to marketers. When it comes to connecting with customers, content is the catalyst. It builds not just brands, but relationships.
• Create a strong user experience. Remember that a customer relationship is a partnership. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that every interaction you have with your customers — on your website, blog, apps, emails, etc. — comes from a user-centered mindset. Good user experience is geared toward helping customers get the most out of every interaction with your brand to create an experience they want to come back to.
• Optimize for intent. When it comes to increasing traffic, Cyber-Duck’s Sofia Breg offers spot-on advice: “Dominate intents, not keywords.” This strategy is about creating content that speaks directly to what people are looking for rather than what you want to say. That intent might be informational and educational, or it may be transaction-oriented, but it’s on their terms.
• Pick your battles. When it comes to competing with Google for traffic, be strategic about where you compete. Understand what content and keywords are more prone to quick information and zero-click searches. When targeting organic search, take the low-hanging fruit of keywords that have lower competition and higher volume. Focus on the intents and questions that you can answer better than Google can, and be prepared to lose some battles so you can win the meaningful ones.
While connecting with audiences has become increasingly complex, the formula for building relationships is still relatively simple: Be genuine. Create value. Be solution-minded. And always be there for the customer. If you continue to do that, people will be more likely to find your website.